Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remembering Old Lessons

Sitting by the poolside at the Y, watching J's swim lesson progress I remembered by uncle who is close to seventy now. To many in the family he was the model dad like most of the others were not. No matter how long the work day, he always made time for the kids; helped with their homework, read to them, introduced them to new ideas and played with them.

Their home was full of educational toys, encyclopedias and books - my own home had very little of any of that and I loved to visit them so I would dive into the rich treasure trove. My two cousins were bright and talented kids and everything seemed to be on track for them to grow up to become happy, well adjusted and successful adults.

Yet something was not right about this picture. My uncle was an overzealous parent who would not waste even a minute of time he spent with the kids if he could coax in a mini lesson. They were on a rich educational and extra-curicullar enrichment diet almost from birth. As they grew older, the kids grew distant from the father who had put so much effort into shaping their future. They didn't make the best grades in class, they abandoned the violin and music lessons without remorse, hung out with what their father called "riff-raff"

My older cousin is about to turn forty and lives with his parents. He is sporadically employed but the paycheck does not support his extravagant lifestyle. His sister will turn thirty next month. She has drifted in and out of several masters programs in the last ten years and now does nothing at all. On an ordinary day you see the two of them lounging around the house in shabby old clothes and unkempt hair because they don't care about external appearances. They will retire to their rooms if there are visitors because they can't make polite conversation. My uncle is a very tired and defeated old man who is aging rapidly.

My mother once said "He tried too hard. Sometimes children just want to be silly, have fun and not learn a damn thing. As a parent you need to give them room to be free to just be" Any time I find myself becoming an over-zealous parent trying to squeeze in twenty four hours in the two that I have left in the evening, I remind myself to let go and let J do all things mindless that make her happy and be carefree like God wanted all children to me.

There is a lifetime to teach and learn but childhood is fleeting and what memory could be more precious than that of a time of complete, unbridled freedom to while the time away doing nothing. My uncle gave his kids gifts richer than gold and diamonds when all they needed was a bit of mud to make pies with. J came running to me dripping wet and happy. The lesson was over. She knows and I know that the swim lesson is all about no endgame fun.


ggop said...

Oh I don't know about whether your uncle tried too hard. A friend often complained her folks did not "push her enough" and so she grew up without any ambition.

All this just reinforces how tough it is to raise children well. Such a balancing act between the overzealous PTA moms and the people who allow their kids to decide what's best for them.

Anonymous said...

I agree with ggop,its tough to do the right thing as parents and there is very thin line between being the pushy and do what you feel right parents.After reading the book world is flat, I wonder how tough it so going to be for our children in the years to come.


Heartcrossings said...

ggop,Al - Don't you think Asians cultures often push their kids a little too hard ? Some are tough and are able to take it in stride They come out stronger for it. They are the success stories that provide inspiration for goading other kids in their communities.

Then there are kids like my cousins who could not stand hot housing and just wasted away.

Parenting style perhaps has to be adjusted to fit the child's temperament and what works for one sibling maybe completely wrong for the other.

ggop said...

By and large yes, they are pushed hard. In Silicon Valley, its common for children to enrol in Kumon centers for getting good in Math. (or maybe getting A grade in Math is the right word)

The model minority stereotype unfortunately does not do any good.

We are really risk averse as people. Its so deeply ingrained in our mental makeup.

e.g. How many Indian students you know took a year off after high school to figure out what they really wanted to do in life?

Fear and/or anxiety to see their kids do well settled drives parents to push kids. It boils down to what jobs pay the bills and allow you to buy a McMansion, fancy car and meaningless stuff :-)

ggop said...
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